Islamic State in the Bipolar world of Persia and Byzantium

Islamic State in the Bipolar world of Persia and Byzantium

Byzantine had recently won a decisive victory against Persia and recaptured the province of Syria. Syria was predominantly ethnically an Arabian province but was ruled by romans since time of Caesar. On the other hand Iraq was ruled by Persia which held great number of Arab tribes.

Alif Lam Meem! The Roman Empire has been defeated in a land close by; but they, (even) after (this) defeat of theirs, will soon be victorious after a few years. (Al Quran 30:1-4)

 Arabs living in these provinces embraced both pagan and Christian faiths. Condition of Arabs living under the chains was no better than their brothers living in peninsula. Arab tribes resented the foreign rule and were more than happy to see state of medina as their liberator not the conqueror. Muslims of Arabian peninsula could not remain untouched to what was happening to their brothers in other parts of the neighboring realms.

No man’s land

Arabia was a dry and barren land with no resources what so ever .A country where anarchy prevailed with nomadic tribes always fighting internally maybe this was the reason which saved them from the colonial ambitions of Persia and Rome. They always considered it as a kind of a buffer state.

Muhammad’s letter to Head of States

Muhammad sent letters to different head of states during his last years after having established a strong hold in medina. His emissaries sent to Persian Emperor were met with a cold response from khusro Parvez. But these delegations put an alarm in the minds of these monarchies of a rise of a new force in the political melodrama of seventh century Middle East.

Beginning of the conflict

Muhammad wanted to expand his empire further to the north. His envoys were sent to the tribes living in the north under the patronage of Roman Empire. Muslim emissaries were put to death which infuriated Medina.An army was prepared to fight against the Ghasanid tribes the culprits behind this ferocious act. But Muslim army met with a strong resistance, three of its generals were killed.

Campaign of Tabouk

Muslims considered the involvement of Byzantium forces behind their defeat at Motah. To avenge the dead Muhammad himself gathered the largest army under his command of 30000 men. After arriving at Tabouk and camping there, Muhammad’s army was prepared to face the Byzantines. However the Byzantines were not at Tabouk. They stayed there for a number of days and scouted the area but they never came.


Wars in Central Arabia and Southren Parts of Peninsula

Wars in Central Arabia and Southren Parts of peninsula

Hawaizan were the age old rivals of Quraysh, they were the subject of Persian Empire .Hawaizan were hostile towards the new religion.They consider that it will abolish the old ways and their traditionalistic lifestyle,

They consisted of both city dwellers and nomadic tribes. One of their brethren was settled in Taif, a city rivaled to economic success of mecca. Hawaizan merchandise looked for the support of Persian overlords .Their trade route was mainly directed towards Iraq which was a Persian province at that time.

Battle of Hunayn

When Muslim armies marched towards mecca Muslim didn’t know whether they were going to attack mecca or Hawazin tribes.

Hawazain were considering it as a great opportunity that the internal struggle between Muslims and Qurish will destroy either one of their opponents.  After the conquest of mecca Muhammad gathered his armies now numbered ten thousand in number. This army consisted of two main forces 

(i)         Army of  Medina  which initially attacked mecaa

(ii)        Army of Qurash which consisted of two thousand men

Hawazain were commanded by a young leader named as Malik Bin Nuwayra . he knew that his tribe were strong in type of warfare with heavy archery, so he selected a o position in which a narrow pass was selected .when Muslims armies reached that spot early in the morning they came the firing range of the arrows and missiles of  Hawazain .The vanguard of Muslim army was routed due to this superior military move of enemy after this the general disarray followed and the army was dispersed,

The Vanguard was commanded by the holy prophet himself when he saw people fleeing like this he asked them to return to the battle and fight, only a handful of people were left with him who fought vigorously and never left their place this was the turning point of the war as the people now saw that despite all of their enemy strength and superior military move Muslim army stood still. They came back and this battle was won but it was a pyrrhic victory and Muslims losses were also great, Muslims found a great number of booty

Siege of Taif

Taif was the city which was first visited by the holy prophet to gain their support against their old rivals of mecca. This mission was a failure as his proposal was rejected. After a few years Muslim armies besiege Taif for a short period of time. But the city defended itself successfully against the invading army.

This war put an end to  force of a strong enenmy of the newly formed Muslim state. Now there was none left who can stand against the city sate of medina which was now started to emerge as the theocratic republic of Islam with its capital at medina

War with Jews

Wars with Jews

Jews were one of the main political and economic forces in Arabia. They were fewer in number but greater in influence. According to some estimates they were the riches ethnic group of peninsula at that time. They dominated the banking side of Arabic community. Unlike Quraysh of mecca who was business minded community Aus and Khazraj of medina were agriculturalists. Due to two reasons Ansar or helpers were in a subservient position in city of medina.  

(i)                  Precarious situation of economy

(ii)                Internal wars between Aus and Khazraj .(They were financially dependent on the loans provided by the Jews of Yathrib.)

Jews in medina consisted of three tribes

Bani un Nadhr

Bani Qurayza

Banu Qaunuqa

The state of medina tried to negotiate a peace treaty between Muslims and Jews of medina but this effort was futile. Jews were positioned strategically as their tribes were located in the heart of Medina. First prophet tried to candidate with them by arranging an agreement named as  misaq e medina charter of medina. Jews were the dominant party in medina both financially and spiritually, after the arrival of immigrants the tide was turned against them .But their numbers were few and they could not resist the ever growing force of Muslims.

According to Muslim sources they were in a league with Quraysh, Bedouins and the discontented party. The discontented party was the pre immigration elite of medina who wanted to get rid of the newly formed state. They were not in strength or position to do it openly so they get into silent alliance with the other parties who were working against state of medina.

Expulsion of Jewish tribes from Medina

Year 624 First Banu Qaynuqawere besieged and were exiled on easy conditions after the battle of badr, abanu nazr were goldsmiths and there tools were taken as war fief

Year 625 Second was Banu an Nadhr were banished from medina but they were banned on strict terms. They were an agricultural community the land left by them were allotted tho immigrant community. Immigrant took the ownership of these newly vacant lands and were no longer dependent on Ansar

Year 627 the last remaining tribe of Banu Quraiza was in conspiracy against with state of medina in a league with Quraish, Bedouins and discontented party in medina. They were found guilty of high treason and all of their men beheaded their women and children were sold slavery and their wealth and land confiscated

Their decision was put into hand of Saad their former ally who had strong grievances against them .he was disappointed with them when he asked for their military aid in the battle of ditch but all of this was of no avail.

Jews were also present in other parts of Arabian Peninsula as they have also strongholds to the north of medina; they had strong net of citadels as in khaber.

Invasion of Khaber

In the year 628 the prophet marched with 1600 including 200 horsemen towards the stronghold of khaber .One of the Jewish colonies of Al Qamus offered some resistance to Muslims. Jews did not fight Muslims in open battle rather they preferred to shut themselves in their castles. The main reason for their failed strategy was because they never combined their forces against invading army of medina and were captured on after one by the Muslim forces

The new theocratic state was now not going to tolerate its enemies. Reasons for the expulsion of Jews were simple they were the commercial rival and military threat to the rising Muslim state of Medina. Jews were town people and were business minded community. On the other hand their rival Arabs were Bedouins who were skilled swordsmen. Arabs were used to minor skirmishes and earned their living through plunder and savagery.


This campaign put an end to strength of Jewish colonies in Arabia, this was the end one of the competitors of the state of medina, and Jews were financially the strongest part in northern Arabia. As Islam put the ban on usury which was blow to the economical empire of Jews, secondly Jews always felt kind of a monopoly on their monotheistic beliefs but after Muhammad they claimed was challenged, this made Jews hostile towards newly formed religion.

Conflict with Quraysh

Conflict with Quraysh ; The Internal Conflict

The next ten years were of continuous warfare with Quraysh .Muslims tried to block the trade route of Syria by raiding the caravans of Quraish. This could not be left unpunished, Muslims also defies the Quraysh and were still living safely in medina this was a mortal blow to the prestige of quraysh which should be restored, and these reasons became the cause of hostility between city state of medina and oligarchical state of mecca.

Battle of Badr

The first major battle was fought at a place called badr. Reasons of hostility were apparent

(i)            Muslims tried to block the trade route of neighboring countries of Iraq, Abbasynia, Syria

(ii)           Quraysh were thinking the escape of their renegade sons and brothers to the safe house of mecca as strategic defeat.

(iii)          They tried to contact the Jews of medina to create the unrest in the city state of medina.

(iv)         The immediate cause of the battle was the interception of the yearly trade caravan of mecca led by the Umayyad commander Abu Sufyain . Abu Sufyian put the battle cry to save the wealth and political prestige of mecca by saving this caravan.

Reaction of Meccan forces was furious. They gathered an army of a thousand men strong in the command of Abu al Hikam (abu jahil) leader of Mukhzumites branch of Quraysh ( Mukhzumites were responsible for the warfare of Quraysh) .

The two armies met near the place of Badr. According to Muslim sources the army of Prophet consisted of 313 men who included both the immigrants (Muhajir) and the natives of Medina (Ansar).

The battle was a complete success for Muslim forces. The forces of Quraysh were decimated their top leadership either died or captured in this battle .their retreat was put into order less flight. There dead leaders include Abu Jahl,Al Swad, Hisham bin Abi Huzifa.Uthba bin Rabaia his son and brother all of Umayyad, Umyyya bin khalaf of Bani Juma; Zama,s bin alaswad , abul bukhtari and and naufal bin khuwaylid of Bani Asad.

On the other hand Muslims thought this victory was due to divine intervention which made abled them to defeat the most prestigious tribe of Arab tribal hierarchy but for the Quriash the results were devastating

“Allah had helped you at Badr when ye were a contemptible little force,then fear Allah may ye show your gratitude”

(i)            Meccans were unable to secure the trade route and were facing financial problems

(ii)           Second they lost their first class leadership .The supremacy of t Umayyad clan was established in mecca as most of the leaders of Mukhzumites were killed in the battle.

(iii)          Third they lost seven of their men and furthermore same number of Meccan soldiers was captured. Meccan captives were ransomed on great financial cost

(iv)         This defeat caused humiliation and broke their prestige.

Apparently this battle was in the middle of nowhere in a country which no one knew up to this point in the world history , but actually this battle determined the fate of Islam forever.

Battle of Ohud

The battle of Badr resulted in the victory of Medina. But Meccans were still not able to secure the trade routes and protect their caravan merchandise. This defeat for Meccans led to another battle known as  Ohud in which Quraysh were fully prepared to avenge their dead and reclaim their lost honor.

Battle of Ohud was fought on March 19, 625, Muslim army of a thousand men met with Quraysh who were three thousand in number and have gathered all of their allies to put Muslim power to an end .

Muslim army was initially one thousand in strength but the discontented part of medina left in leadership of Abdullah bin Obay. On the battlefield both sides showed great valor in the traditional Arab warfare of individual battles. Quraish were not able to hold their ground and were to heel after initial battle. Meccan cavalry in the command of Khalid bin Waleed saw a weak point in the Muslim defense it was mountain in the rear of main Muslim army guarded by 70 archers who left their place when they saw Quriash fleeing battlefield. But Khalid overwhelmed them by his sudden raid in the rear of Muslim army. This was a turning point as the Muslims who were pursuing Quraysh were now themselves perused by Khalid’s cavalry unit.

Muslims were able to guard Muhammad but it was Pyrrhic victory for them. Muslims lost 70 of their men .Now the odds were even for both Muslims and Meccans.

Siege of Medina

Quraysh were now adamant to put muslin forces in an ultimate retreat and stop the growing influence of newly established of Muslim state. Quraysh gathered 4000 men for their ultimate conflict. Quraysh gathered all of their allies actually it was the conglomerate of all the anti-muslin forces to get rid of this new religion and put old socio –economic order in place

Bedouin allies of Quraysh which included powerful Najdi tribe of Ghafan,Bani Fezara.The whole confederate army was estimated between 10,000 and 25,000 men. On the other hand Muslim armies consisted of a united front under the command of Muhammad.

After the numerical loss at the battle of Ohud Muslims tried to defend by locking themselves in the city of medina against the attack of the combined forces of Quraysh in the city of Medina. Medina is geographically invulnerable from three sides due to natural defenses

Muslims employed a Persian strategy of digging a trench around one side of the city. This new strategy stopped the confederate advance towards medina. But now the city was besieged by the largest force ever the peninsula has seen .

This conflict ended with the departure of confederate forces without occupying medina.the allies of Quraysh wsecially bedouins came to have a quick victory and a lot of booty were now uncertain about their future.The last remaining tribe of jews were put to death for the treachery against the state .Quraysh have now finally realised that the growing  power of muslim state can not be stopped.

Muslims were able t defend themseves against this massive army of allies against all odds, now the winds of power were chnged forever.after this it was the muslims who attacked Mecca not the other way around.

The pact of Hudaybia

Battle of Ditch made the top leadership of Quraysh realised that now was the time to make peace. The armed conflict with Medina had left mecca in shackels of poverty. The dominating Ummyyad clan of Mecca  met with some resistance by the Mukhzumites in peace mking process.

Muhammad departed for Mecca to offer pilgrimage of the  Holy City. Meccans intercepted this moved and camped at Hudaybia .Here in the middle of road to Mecca from Medina a peace treaty was concluded

it was conclude that Muslims and Meccans would enter into a truce for ten years . Armed conflict was banned between both parties. Quraysh were allowed to carry out their trade with Palestine,Syria and Egypt. Most importantly Quraysh first time accepted Medina as a legitimate state and allowed them to enter into alliances with other tribes.

Conquest of Mecca

In th epretext of Hudaybia Muslims got into an alliance Banu khuza`a  who  were attacked by Banu bakr .Quraysh supported Banu Bakr in their massacare of  MUslim allies. Muhammad left medina with a firm determination to put an end to the Meccan power .Muslim armies moved secretly  and caught Quraysh  by surprise.

Abu sufayan the leader of Quaraysh was captured spying on muslim forces .Muslim armies marched toowards medina unoppsed. only resistance was offered by some Mukhzumites which was crushed . Holy Prophet announced general amnesty for his old Meccan rivals.

A medieval mulsim historian Tabari says about this, ” it was destined for muhammad , the prophet of war , to demonstrate that even in the attle filed he was the prophet of mercy”.

“Say, the truth has come and falsehood has vanished .Surely , falsehood is bound to vanish.”

Sura XV 81

Rise of State of Medina

Rise of Muhammad and State of Medina

Part 1

Background of Political and Economic History of State of Medina

Before the advent of Islam and rise of Muhammad Quraysh were the leading parties of mecca.  Quraysh have been split into main parties Hashemite and Umayyad. On the other hand Umayyad who were the political elite and also the confederates of Mukhzumites the most warlike branch of Quraysh. Hashmites branch of Quraysh was on the top of political hierarchy of Quraysh and were also regarded as the spiritual leaders of Quraysh.

After the declaration of his prophet hood Muhammad called the meeting of his immediate kin which did not met with a favorable reaction. He yet again called another assembly of the whole Quarish to follow the new monotheistic religion of Islam .Reaction of Quraysh was hostile and violent. The old age customs of the Quraysh were not that easy to break.

Preaching of Muhammad caused the elimination of Hashmites from the inner circle of Quraysh .Now the most radical steps were taken to reduce the influence of the newly established religion which challenged the pagan customs of Meccan society .Islam has caused disturbance in the political, social and economic structure of the Meccan society. A faction of Quraysh was highly skeptical of old ways and customs of Arabic society and was inclined towards this new religion.

Shaab e abi talib

Quraysh were now sure that the only way to stop the spread of Islam is by locking away is away Muhammad and his kin. They confined the whole immediate kin of Muhammad, the hasmites, into the outskirts of mecca. It is most famously known as Shaab Abi Talib. All the tribes in mecca took a solemn oath to never aid or marry Hasmites in the future to come. This act of hostility of Quraysh against one of their own was unprecedented. But this situation was unacceptable for the liberal and open-minded elements in Qurasih who tried to annul this inhumane treatment of their distant brethren.

Migration to Medina

Muhammad saw this unending hostility in mecca so he started looking for the new allies. The target was to have a place for the propagation of new religion outside of mecca. First he visited Taif a very powerful city home to the Thaqifites tribe into the south of Arabia but this journey didn’t brought back the expected results

Another powerful city in Arabia was Yathrib which was the home to two ever quarrelling tribes of Aus and Khazraj and a great number of Jewish tribes. Jewish tribes settled there after the subjugation of Israel by Roman Empire. City of Yathrib was big exporter of date palms .Unlike the trading community of mecca they relied on the yearly product of the palm dates. On the other hand Jews also produced dates but their main revenue was earned through the interest earned by banking .

Muslim of medina took the first pledge of known as Aqbah in 621A.D during pilgrimage of mecca. Next year in 622 seventy five citizens of medina met with prophet and put their unending allegiance with him. The purpose was to establish a stronghold for the propagation of the new religion.

Evolution of Arabic philosophical tradition from religious theological ( kalam ) to neo- platonic school of thought. ( falsafa ).

Islam as a religion emphasizes on the importance of thinking and rationality. It also became the basis Islamic thought and philosophy in Middle East ,Persia and Muslim Spain. Muslim thought has a very pleasant blend of eastern and western philosophy .It first started as the translation movement and then the  theological disputes based on deep philosophical interpretation of religious text paved the way for Neo Platonic school of thought in medieval Islamic philosophy.

Islamic philosophy is not confined to either to one topic ,time or place. Islamic philosophy is used as a very broad generic term.

Origins of Muslim Philosophy

Firstly early Muslim tried to rationalize their religion because they feel the pressure from both the inner circle of believers who questioned various aspects of divine religion and on the other hand by the Jews and Christians who probed Islamic religious teachings and were needed to be answered. Later on Greek and on the lesser extent Indian and Persian philosophical concepts were fused into Muslim theoretical ideas.

Kalam or Religious Theology

Religion was on the central stage for medieval Islamic thinkers which became the basis of Al kalam that is actually the process to rationalize religion with the use of logic and dialectic reasoning.


the first group of theologians to use this approach were Mutazilites

Unity and justice were the main focal point of mutaziltes as they used to titled themselves as the ahl at tauhid wa,l adl the forbearers of unity and justice

According to Abu al-Hudhayl the mutazilites (Arabic: المعتزلة‎) doctrine included five basic principles.

1The doctrine of unity or tauhid التوحيد

Asharites were the firm believers of the unity of god the so thought divine attributes such as ‘powerful’ (qadir), ‘knowing’ (‘alim), ‘creating’ (kjaliq), ‘nourishing’ (raziq), etc. as mentioned in Quran should be taken in metaphorical sense. So they absolutely denied the anthropomorphism nature of divine attributes

In response to this Sunni proposed that these ‘entities’ called sifat are at the same time neither identical to God nor other than Him

2The principle of adl العدل or justcie Predestination and free will

They were of the opinions that god has given human free will and for evil deeds they are to be blame for their actions not god

3The doctrine of al waad wal waid , الوعد و الوعيد  promise of paradise

They also belived that it is the necessity of human to be promised something good like jannah or paradise and for the sinners a plce of eternal daamnation hell

4The doctrine of amr bil mahrooh wa nahi anil munkir الأمر بالمعروف و النهي عن المنكر

Mutazilites were of the view that it is their responsibility to advocate the good and forbid from evil

5The doctrine of al-manzila bayn al manzilataynالمنزلة بين المنزلتين

 or the doctrine of intermediary position

Mutazilites believe that a Muslim sinner has intermediary position he can neither be called an infidel or a believer if he commits a sin he holds an intermediary position between these two

The Reactionary Approach , Asharism

The second most influential school of thought in earlier religious tradition was Asharism it was founded by al-Hasan al-Ash’ari (d. 324 AH / 936 AD). The disciples of the school are known as Ash’arites

The doctrine of bi la kayf or unquestioning conformism

They believe that tjere is limit to human rationalistic approach and it does not provide us with all necessary answeres so we have to ultimatly rely on divine truth which is the final and absolute truth.

Asharites were strong believers of atomism are the everlasting material other than that everything happened for just an instant, as every event that happened is directly commanded by God Himself they believed in constant divine intervention in worldly affairs

Asharites were also the strong adherents of Occasionalism.

The doctrine of predestination

They believe that everything is predestined and we humans are mere the agents to perform it

Translation movement

To make Arabic capable enough to express ideas of philosophy and contemporary sciences, around a whole century from 750 to 850 was dedicated to translation under the direct patronage of early Abbasid dynasty. It was mainly influenced by Greek philosophical tradition and a on a lesser extent by Persian and Indian traditions have also share in intellectual beginning of Islamic philosophical thought.

Translation happened in two ways first the Greek classics were translated from Syriac to Arabic and secondly the direct translation of Greek text into Arabic.

Translation was done in two ways as first new words were coined to express purely new ideas developed by Arabic thinkers and secondly Greek terms were arabisised e.g, jumatryia (geometry), falsafha(philosophy), iksir (elixir) , urghun(organ) , and jughrafyia (geometry).

Bayt al Hikma was commissioned by the official decree of the medieval Abbasid dynasty to translate the great works of Greek philosophers into Arabic language.

  Arabic philosophy

Arabic philosophy was coined by the combined efforts put forth by Muslim , Jews Christian and atheist philosophers of arab descent e.g,

  • Al-Kindi (d. 866): first Arab/Muslim philosopher; philosophy as “the search for truth” (talab al-haqq)
  • Al-Farabi (d. 950): elaborates Islamic Neo-Platonism;)

Persianized  Islamic  Philosophy

Ibn Sina/Avicenna (d. 1037): fully developed an elaborate and complete system of philosophy .

Avicenna’s philosophy, like that of his predecessors among the Arabians, is Aristoteleanism mingled with Neo-Platonism, an elucidation of Aristotle’s teaching in the light of the Commentaries of his own.

Avicenna worked on

the doctrine of being

the body mind relationship

theory of knowledge

doctrine of prophecy god and the world

Islamic philosophy in West

Islamic Spain produced many scholars like ibn hazm, Averroes

Ibn Rushd/Averroes represents full synthesis of Aristotelian thought and Islam Averroes openly admitted his inability to hold on philosophic grounds the doctrine of individual immortality, being content to maintain it as a religious tenet. Averroes’ greatest influence was as a commentator


Logic was considered as he philosopher’s tool kit in medieval Islamic philosophy and Avicenna and Ibn Hazm were the followers of the Aristotelian logic in Kalam but the use of logic in theological studies was successfully integrated by Al Ghazali .

End of Rationalist Thought Al Ghazali

Alghazali is traditionally believed to have refuted the popular philosophical beliefs in his famous book the incoherence of philosophers in which he gives three major contradiction of the philosophers to common in reference to common orthodox Islamic belief.

His objections on philosophers

the denial of resurrection of human’s bodily form

notion of eternal universe

and god knows only particulars

and due to these allegations he called philosophers  as  the heretics. He is also credited with converging the traditional Kalam with the new vibrant Sufi theology (mysticism).


Contemporary Islamic philosophy

Contemporary Islamic philosophy is more centered on political and theological aspects of philosophy.

Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, founder of Islamist political thought in the 20th century, was also the the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami a political organization. Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, was a famous teacher of the philosophical school of Hikmat-ul-Mutaliya. So the ideals of new Islamic Republic of Iran have also their roots in islamic philosophy.